This was posted on my old blog on March of 2013. I have resisted the temptation to tone down the sentiments expressed here.
Right around the time I formally retired from the United Methodist ministry, I surprised myself. I recognized that I was still a Christian. In a way, nothing had changed. Yet, somehow it had.
And, that’s how it still is. I still hunger for worship. I still interpret life by reference to the Bible and the historic beliefs of Christians. I still want to lead others to Christ. I still want to pray. I still love to preach. I still wish I could teach the Bible.
It’s all pretty weird in a way.
Things went bad in the last full time parish I served in the United Methodist Church. The issue had to do with my wife and my family. If it had had to do with me and my conduct of ministry that would have been bearable — but, the attack centered on my wife and family. And the Bishop of the Michigan Area of the United Methodist Church sided with the church against my wife and family. (more…)
In Mark 11 we read that when Jesus entered Jerusalem — that final time — he “entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” It was a provocative thing to do. Mark tells us that this incident is one of the primary reasons the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. It was a strong protest against the way religious service was being conducted.
And, then come these remarkable words:
He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
And, as I read this passage I say to myself: if that was the case then, how much more now! Our various places of worship — wherever they may be — are intended to be places of prayer for all people. They are meant to point to God. They are meant to bring people into connection with God. They are meant for all people. Is that what they are? (more…)
Rob Bell is back in the news now that his new TV show is debuting on the Oprah Network.
And a RNS article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey (with some quotes) is getting a lot of discussion. Bailey writes: “Now, the man who built a church of an estimated 10,000 people isn’t even attending an organized church. Instead, he surfs the waves near Hollywood and has teamed up with the goddess of pop theology, Oprah Winfrey.” Further along in the article we read: “Now resettled near Los Angeles, the couple [Rob & Kristen Bell] no longer belongs to a traditional church. “We have a little tribe of friends,” Bell said. “We have a group that we are journeying with. There’s no building. We’re churching all the time. It’s more of a verb for us.””
It seems strange that a man who was the inspiration for the building of a mega-church would now no longer be a part of any organized church. Except that it really isn’t. (more…)
כִּי אֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי כִּי־גָדוֹל יְהוָה וַאֲדֹנֵינוּ מִכָּל־אֱלֹהִים
“For I know that the Lord is great; our Lord is above all gods.”
In this verse both the personal name of God (יְהוָה) Yahweh and the term “Lord” (אָדוֹן) adon appear. In the original language the words lie side by side: as if to emphasize that it is Yahweh and none other who is Lord above all other powers.
As I understand it, the word “worship” comes from the old English term worth-ship. Worship recognizes the worthiness and power of the God we know through Jesus Christ.
Worship acknowledges that I am not at the center of the universe: God is. Worship works against narcissistic self-absorption. It says I have a Creator. It says there is One who is greater than I am. It calls me into relationship with the One who is greater than I am. It calls me into the Presence of the One who is greater than all people — and all the powers of this world. (more…)
A recent article at The Atlantic entitled When Prayer Makes Anxiety Worse points to a problem that others have mentioned before: prayer may (and should) release us from our anxieties, but some types of prayer may make matters worse. It depends on what kind of God you believe in.
But for those who are anxious about everything, prayer can sometimes help and sometimes hurt. Past research on the mental-health benefits of praying have been mixed. Some studies have found that people who pray more are more satisfied and happy, others found no relationship to well-being, and still others found a negative correlation.
A new study published in Sociology of Religion suggests that prayer can help ease people’s anxiety, but whether it does so depends on the personality of the God they believe in. That is, whether someone has a relationship with what they perceive to be an angry, vengeful God or more of a friendly figure could determine whether prayer brings relief—or simply more stress….
What they found was that those who prayed more frequently felt “a secure attachment to God.” But those who thought God was distant and unresponsive were far more likely to show signs of anxiety-related disorders. This echoes an April study that found that people who believe God is malevolent are more likely to suffer from anxiety, paranoia, and compulsions.
I have found this to be true myself. When my focus is on my own anxieties and frustrations, my prayers can make my attitude worse. It is faith and trust that make prayer effective. As I trust God, I release my anxieties — I let go of them. My prayers need to focus on God and not on me. This is why praise is so important to prayer — like true worship, it puts our mind on God. As we re-affirm our faith in God’s character and God’s love, we put our anxieties in perspective. From that standpoint, we can, then, pray about them.
If prayer is making you more anxious — you are (to put it crassly) doing it wrong.
I remember the morning (a few years ago) when Psalm 135 became memorable to me. I started reading and meditating on this psalm on a stormy morning. There was a thunderstorm raging outside. And, I slowly read these lines:
“He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth; he makes lightnings for the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.” (v.7 NRSV)
So, now, when I read this again, I am reminded of that morning.
But, for now, let’s begin at the beginning. Notice how it starts. (more…)
Pannenberg sees in the heightened exocentric capability of humans the basis for their uniqueness from other animal forms. In the being-with-others that characterizes their existence, they are able to transcend themselves — to look back on themselves again — and thereby to develop self-consciousness. This exocentrically based development of self-consciousness indicates [this] to him as well as the connection between humans and Spirit. Pannenberg credits the self-transcendence required for this process to the action of the Spirit, who lifts humans above themselves, so that when they are ecstatically with others they are themselves. For this reason self-transcendence cannot be accomplished by the subject itself. Rather, all knowing is possible only through the Spirit.
By extension, the same ecstatic working of the Spirit found in the individual is the basis for the building of community. In fact, community is always an experience brought by the Spirit, who lifts one above oneself.
— Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1989).
I expect worship to be an experience that lifts me out of my pre-occupation with myself. (more…)